I was all alone. Well, alone with my paddle, my boat, and my life jacket. A few weeks ago, some friends and I journeyed east to go whitewater canoeing on a few rivers. The trip was partially for training purposes and partially just for the excitement and challenge of paddling an unknown river and some bigger rapids.
Before we launched, we tried to gather as much information as possible. Where were the big holes or trouble spots? What were the best lines to take? Consistently the response was “Well…you don’t want to swim Grumpy’s,” the entrance rapid. With scouting reports complete, we donned our life jackets and helmets, prepared our canoes and paddles, and headed to the river as our anticipation and tension mounted.
I can’t speak for the other members of the group, but I know my heart was pounding loud enough I could hear it over the roar of the water. We quickly planned who would lead out, and I was to bring up the rear, the assumption being that I would surely survive the first onslaught of rapids. My friends departed one by one, carefully making their way to various eddies downriver. Giving myself a pep talk, I took a deep breath and headed into the current.
Almost immediately, I felt a sniper rock jump up and grab the bottom of my boat, and just like that, I was in the water. Self-rescue is a requirement for paddling on any kind of whitewater, so I knew that I needed to grab my canoe, my paddle, and swim for shore. As I began my self-rescue, I faced the daunting reality that I was now swimming Grumpy’s! Surely, it couldn’t be that bad, could it?
My canoe hit a rock, and I found myself spinning in a wave. My ankle made contact with another rock, then my hip and chest. I had become a pinball, careening back and forth, forwards and backwards, under the water and above the water for what seemed like an eternity. It was painful, to say the least. My body recoiled as it was battered on the many rocks in the shallow descent; my vision blurred from water and submersion as I tried desperately to swim to the shore. I was alone! There was no one to help me this time…or so I thought.
For a brief moment, I became aware of my friend David paddling up next to me, telling me to grab the stern of his boat, but I refused for fear I would capsize him. I could also hear my friend Joel encouraging me to keep swimming. Finally, I made it to the shore and collapsed in a heap, shaken and breathless. Tears welled in my eyes as fear, disappointment, frustration, and pain washed over me. It had been brutal, and I wondered if the adventure of continuing down this river would be worth it.
Life feels this way sometimes. Most of us have felt beaten up, disoriented, and pummeled by the pain of life’s circumstances.
We feel we can barely catch our breath before the next round of adversity overwhelms us. Oh, Satan is very cunning—capitalizing on our wounds, helping us fixate on the pain, telling us that we’re alone and that nobody cares. It can be difficult during those times to lift our eyes above the waves to find God’s care and plan for us. In fact, we often wonder if He is present at all!
Later that evening, our paddling cohort gathered around a campfire to relive our harrowing and heroic tales from the day. As I re-counted my swim through Grumpy’s, I shared my pain and fear, the hurt that it had caused, and how utterly alone I felt in the midst of it. Joel looked at me with deep compassion in his eyes and said, “Leah, didn’t you know that David and I were paddling right next to you the entire time?” Tears filled my eyes as I realized that while I could not see these friends in the midst of the struggle, they stayed beside me, escorting me, making sure that I made it safely to shore, encouraging me to keep swimming the entire time. It was true that there wasn’t much they could do to physically save me from the swim, but they were with me.
Don’t we often struggle to see where God is in the midst of adverse circumstances? He promised He would be with us always, but we can’t always see Him.
We can only see and feel the pain and forget Him. Feeling alone in the struggle, we take matters into our own hands to get ourselves to safety. In reality, God is like my paddling friends David and Joel; He is with us, no matter what. We may perceive Him to be afar or even absent, but even when we can’t feel Him or see Him in the midst of the painful trial, He is there. He has not and will not abandon us.
So, when you find yourself struggling to see God in the midst of life’s whitewater rapids, may you experience the reality and comfort of His promise: “I will never forsake you!”
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you…The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8).